Some years ago, I thought all I had to do to write a book was...well, write it. There would be a few typos to correct, of course, and a few awkward sentences to improve on but basically, that was it. Apparently, thousands of other people had the same idea, and wrote their books.
Learning about creative writing suggested there would have to be a bit more rewriting than I had supposed. Clichés to root out, every sentence has to make sense and be clear to the reader, who sadly, wasn't psychic. Then there was grammar, spelling, formatting, pace, descriptions, dialogue, hooks, scenes and chapters to think about.
So I took my first draft of Borrowed Time, and I substantially redrafted it. I changed the ending, changed the relationship between the characters, worried about point of view and tense and perspective and pace.
Realising I was relying on a lot of back-story for the research, I wrote a historical strand and threaded it into the third draft. I realised at this point that that was what I was doing, writing a new draft.
Pace was still a problem, and when an agent came into the process, she suggested changes that would help that. The fourth draft was rewritten to be more for an adult audience, more tense, more at stake for the protagonists, more secrets to be revealed.
Draft five, six, seven and eight were less work each time, but still substantially changed the book. Just before it was sent to editors, it was still having chapters moved about, and had had a thousand word or punctuation edits. One thousand. Many were adverbs being ruthlessly trimmed. Many were debates about hyphenated words, consistency of capitalising words or spelling of names.
Many people self-publish, and I don't have a problem with it. But please, please, give your book the same care and effort you would for a mainstream publisher. If I pay for a self-published book, I expect no less. Indeed, I may be paying a similar amount. I recently bought an e-book by another blogger. I couldn't read it. The first time you hit something that jars, you lose the thread. By the third one - on page one - I knew I couldn't read it for pleasure. Edit until you can't see the problems, then hand it to someone who will.
Novels aren't written, they are redrafted, rewritten, polished and edited. And so they should be - our characters and stories deserve nothing less.
Tuesday, 21 August 2012
A Baby's Bones is already looking much more slick than Secrets. I've learned so much from writing that book, it seems to have streamlined the process. I entered a first sample (about 11k words) and a full synopsis to the Yeovil literary prize, and was informed some months later that I came second! Even more exciting was the feedback I received:
'An excellently, richly imagined and deftly plotted story that keeps revealing new layers as it progresses. The weaving of present and past is expertly done, and the authorial voice is confident and sophisticated. All the different elements are woven together perfectly here: story, character development, setting and atmosphere.' Wow. *blush* And £250 on its way.
The judge was Sophie Hannah, whose work I admire and enjoy. It did kick start the last push to complete the book, and I'm now doing one big rewrite to catch the loose ends, odd story wrinkles and make sure I put descriptions in. It should be ready mid-September for a structural edit, anyway.
My poetry managed the shortlist in the Mslexia poetry prize, which was encouraging, as I don't have much time for poetry at the moment. Nor, sadly, do I have much time for the kids' book, Marley and the Crow, but I'm enjoying the novel writing too much to be diverted.
Sadly, I haven't heard about The Secrets of Life and Death and its weeks at various editors. It's still there, and a lot of people are taking their summer breaks, so it's taking its own time. Frustrating, but the stress just makes me write more, so it's not unproductive time. More news when I have it!
Wednesday, 8 August 2012
The sequel to The Secrets of Life and Death will finish up the Kelley story. I've followed him into Venice, off to Bohemia and into trouble with Dee's wife. Research, like the Tudor manor reading I did for Vincent, the 1580s narrator in A Baby's Bones, just draws me in with potential stories. The commonsensical part of me says if I haven't been able to find a publisher for book 1, is it worth writing book 2? But the other part of me has to know what happens next. This is the most satisfying part of writing for me - telling myself the story.
If someone had asked me five years ago what I'd end up writing, I probably would have said crime. Four years ago, historical fiction, three years ago, women's fiction. I've tried them, but somehow, I'm back where I started, in love with the fantastical element of magic, or ghosts, or possession. And it does make the research so fascinating. For Elizabeth Bathory, for example, I joined a fan website which refers to her as 'Our Lady', which is strange but kind of endearing. They did glorify her, which is a bit harder to take, given that she certainly was responsible for the deaths of a number of children. Sometimes the truth is really weirder than fiction, and that's where good research takes you.
I've also found myself sketching a brief history, just to show a reader where the known facts, as much as they can be verified, end and the storytelling and imagination take over.